How Our Troubled Age Resembles the Time of the Maccabees

Peter Paul Rubens and Workshop, “The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus” (c. 1635)
Peter Paul Rubens and Workshop, “The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus” (c. 1635) (photo: Public Domain)

It is common today for Christians of all stripes to say that the period in the Bible that most closely parallels our own time is that of Sodom and Gomorrah. The late convert to Catholicism Judge Robert Bork even wrote a bestselling book some 20 years or so back called Slouching Towards Gomorrah.

But having just read some passages from it, I would say that the period that most closely resembles our own is that described in 1 Maccabees 1-2.

For those who are Protestant, you might not have heard of these books. (Then again, if you’re Catholic, the same may sadly be true.) At best your Bible contains 1 and 2 Maccabees as “apocrypha”. There is proof, however, that Jesus and His apostles considered them to be Sacred Scripture.

Regardless, those chapters offer clear insights into our age, particularly 1 Maccabees 1:29-50 and 1 Maccabees 2:49-50 and 61-64.

In the first citation, we read of how Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a descendant of Alexander the Great’s lieutenant Antiochus, had ordered the people into a great apostasy.

We don’t have the full brunt of the state being waged against us in this fashion (although believers in North Korea and elsewhere do). But we are certainly not counted as “friends of the king.” And we see elements of the persecution suffered by the Israelites and demanded by the decree, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die” (1:50).

We’re not dying, but we are increasingly seeing our beliefs and our ability to act according to our conscience proscribed by law and judicial fiat.

Especially thought-provoking are these words in Chapter 2:

And so observe [God’s statutes and covenants] from generation to generation that none who put their trust in Him will lack strength. Do not fear the words of a sinner, for his splendor will turn into dung and worms. Today he will be exalted, but tomorrow he will not be found, because he has returned to the dust, and his plans will perish. My children, be courageous and grow strong in the law, for by it you will gain honor.

This is as true now as it has been throughout history. For proof, consider the bishops who caved to England’s King Henry VIII’s demands. Except for one of their company—St. John Fisher, whom we remember precisely because he did not cave – we remember none of them. To learn their names, we must journey into a history book.

Furthermore think of all the rulers who persecuted the Church over the years. For every Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and Diocletian, there are scores, maybe even hundreds, whose names are as dust.

But those who remained faithful in the face of State power, they we remember. We celebrate their memorials. We tell their stories. We honor and attempt to imitate their example.

And so it is today. For every go-along-get-along bishop, we will remember Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop William Lori, Pope St. John Paul II, and others.

For every John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Sonia Sotomayor who have burnt their pinch of incense at the altar of the age, we will remember the late Gov. Bob Casey (D-PA), Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Prof. Robert George, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Helen Alvare, Dr. Janet Smith, the Little Sisters of the Poor, David Daleiden, St. Gianna Molla, Mother Teresa, and so many others who have stood and are standing tall against the spirit of our times and the will to power currently being exhibited by the State, in our own country and around the world.

Even if your Bible does not have 1 and 2 Maccabees (and it should!), it will have this verse:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths (Prov 3:5-6).

It was great advice in the time of the Maccabean martyrs. It still is in our own.